The Saturday Morning Market of Arles, France

Arles holds a special place in my memory, not only because this southern French city guards a dazzling treasure trove of Roman monuments, but also because twice a week it puts on a huge show honoring local products and individual shopkeepers: Le Marché d’Arles. When my travel buddy, Melissa, and I visited Arles in February, we made sure to time our visit on a Saturday so as to coincide with the city’s huge market, which combines what we would call flea markets and farmers markets in the States.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Kiwis, lemons, and oranges

Held every Wednesday and Saturday morning since 1584, the market of Arles takes place right outside the limits of the old town, alternating between the Boulevard Émile-Combes to the east on Wednesdays and the Boulevard des Lices to the south on Saturdays. Markets such as these make for one of the best ways to get to know a city’s culture and that of the surrounding region, and Arles’ was no different. We rubbed shoulders with longtime residents and recent immigrants, indulged hawking vendors and tasted their wares, and even learned some practical French food-related vocabulary.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Bell peppers

The first thing that struck me was simply how very Mediterranean a city Arles is. Dozens of varieties of olives reminded me of the year I lived in the capital of Spain’s olive country (Jaén province), as did bottles and tins of locally-sourced olive oil. Sugary dates still clung to their branches and fragrant spices caught my eye out of unfurled sacks, recalling my experience in the souks of Morocco. But let’s not forget Arles is barely an hour’s drive north of the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Varieties of olives

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Dried dates

Arles’ weekend market was also unmistakably Provençal. Although we missed the region’s lavender bloom by about six months (whomp whomp), we still got to drink deeply in the heavenly aroma of Provence’s world-famous lavender, harvested and dried in the next village over. You can’t go wrong picking up a bag of lavender flowers for a souvenir, that’s for sure. I also nabbed a bag of herbes de Provence, a mixture of rosemary, savory, basil, thyme, and marjoram that would add a lovely dash of flavor to pan-fried pork chops or chicken when I returned home.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Bags of dried lavender flowers

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Bags of herbes de Provence

And—surprise, surprise—this was a French market, through and through. Gigantic wheels of cheese sat on terraced displays, with sliced cutaways unlocking the rich, heady smells of each individual protected variety. Loaves, rolls, and rings of warm bread tempted our inner carboholics, but it was the boxes of macarons that really did me in—I couldn’t resist shelling out some pocket change for one of those delicate sandwich desserts in pistachio flavor.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Emmentaler cheese (a.k.a. Swiss cheese)

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
Glorious macarons

Melissa and I felt very welcome at the market, even as camera-toting tourists with little intention of buying our weekly groceries there. When she went up to a fruit seller to get a single apple for a mid-morning snack, the Algerian who ran the shop simply gave it to her, for free! And a Greek couple patiently introduced us to some of the specialties they had brought over with them from the eastern Mediterranean: dolma, grape leaf rolls stuffed with moist, seasoned rice, and loukum, or Turkish delight. We had such a positive learning experience simply strolling down the boulevard, taking pictures, and asking questions in our very limited French. One day I would love to come back to Arles and stay in an apartment just so I can buy cooking ingredients at this outdoor market.

Saturday morning market, Arles, France
So friendly…despite the pouring rain!

Local sausage

What was your favorite photo from this post? Do you prefer the bustling energy of a farmers market or the orderliness of a supermarket? Tell me down below in the comments thread!

Arles Market, February 14th, 2015

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